So, How the Eff Do You Get Rid of Freckles?

A dusting of freckles on your face is so desirable these days that people use makeup, henna, and even tattoos to mimic them. But if you’d rather nix yours, that’s your prerogative. (Just take it from Britt.)

Freckles are made of clusters of skin cells that contain melanin. Like some moles, freckles are flush with your skin. They’re not painful or harmful, though they *are* associated with a higher risk of skin cancer.

Scientists say your genes play a big role in whether you’ll develop freckles. No one’s born with freckles, though —they only pop up due to sun exposure.   

If you want to X out your frecks, there are options. Here’s what to know.

Can you actually get rid of freckles? 

Freckles are also called ephelides, aka hyperpigmented spots that are usually (but not always) found in European and Asian populations. These babies tend to fade away with reduced sun exposure — so it’s not uncommon for them to ghost you or become near-invisible in cooler months. They also tend to fade as you get older.

But if you want to speed up this process, there are def steps you can take. Unlike raised moles, they’re flat — so you can’t have a doc lop them off. But you *can* do things like use treatments that either remove the top layers of your skin, bleach them, or break down the melanin. Using lots of SPF can also prevent new ones from popping up.

Pssst: Keep in mind that sunspots — aka age/liver spots or solar lentigines — are different. These are the result of UV damage and don’t fade over time. However, like freckles, they also respond to many treatments.

female with freckles smiling
BONNINSTUDIO/Stocksy United

How to get rid of freckles 

Just because your freckles make you look sun-kissed, doesn’t mean you can’t kiss them goodbye. 💋 Here’s how.

Laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment

Laser and intense pulsed light (ILP) treatments are go-to ways of getting rid of unwanted frecks.

Laser technology involves targeting intense light to freckled areas, breaking down unwanted pigment and revealing freckle-less skin underneath.  

Laser resurfacing basically removes skin layers until the frecks disappear, while IPL works to destroy the melanin that gives the freckles their color.

According to 2006 research, both Q-switched laser treatment (a popular type of laser therapy) and IPL work well to quash unwanted freckles. But in a sample of 15 patients, the Q-switched laser treatment worked better.

Since 2017 research echoed this finding, the 1064 Q-switched Nd YAG laser might really be the MVP. Even though the sample size (43) was pretty small, a little over half of the participants experienced a significant reduction in freckles. A handful of people developed hyperpigmentation (aka unwanted coloring) in the treatment area, though.

Since you don’t necessarily wanna swap freckles for unwanted discoloration, talk with a derm about your options. And keep in mind that since any laser treatment makes your skin super vulnerable to UV damage, you’ll have to stay out of the sun or be super diligent about SPF as your skin heals.

And while results are typically permanent, you’ll have to be careful about sun exposure anyway if you want to avoid the development of more frecks in the future.

Chemical peel

A chemical peel can help literally peel back the layers until you like what you see.  👀 

To get rid of freckles, you’ll need a professional to use a moderate to strong peel that most likely contains glycolic or trichloroacetic acid. According to 2022 research, peels are pretty effective at fading freckle pigmentation. Once the top layers are gone, new skin will form in its place.

Since this is a pretty abrasive process, chemical peels can come with side effects like:

  • stinging
  • redness
  • burning
  • irritation
  • crusting
  • swelling
  • hyperpigmentation

They’ll also take a while to heal, during which time you can expect your skin to be pretty sensitive. You’ll also have to follow doc’s orders and likely take a prescription antiviral to reduce the risk of infection.

Topical fading cream

Bleaching your skin isn’t known to be the safest option to combat freckles, but it does work.

Fading creams — aka bleaching creams — typically contain hydroquinone, an ingredient that lightens the skin. In the U.S., these products are currently only available by prescription.   

According to 2009 research, hydroquinone cream is especially effective in combo with tretinoin (a type of retinoid that aids in skin cell turnover) and fluocinolone acetonide (aka a corticosteroid that reduces inflammation).

These additional ingredients may help combat common side effects of topical hydroquinone, such as:

  • stinging
  • inflammation
  • dryness
  • itching
  • blistering
  • discoloration

Keep in mind that hydroquinone is a potential carcinogen. Research from 2022 concluded that hydroquinone is super toxic to aquatic life and rodents and that it might cause leukemia, liver cancer, and tumors in animals. But these findings are talking about hydroquinone in the environment (like when used in paints or motor oils) — topical cream doesn’t have any significant toxicity.

Since it’s potentially v toxic, it’s not FDA approved, and it’s banned in places like Australia, the EU, and Japan.

Topical retinoid cream

Retinoid is a vitamin A compound that can help heal sun-damaged skin and fade freckles a bit. According to a 2014 review, retinoids might also help protect your skin from UV rays and prevent new freckles from forming down the road.

(Keep in mind that retinoids can make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage, so you also need to use plenty of SPF when using them.)

You can get retinoid creams OTC or in higher doses with a prescription. Common side effects include:

  • redness
  • dryness
  • irritation
  • flaking
  • peeling

Heads up that retinoids prob won’t make your freckles disappear altogether, but they can help make them less noticeable.

Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery might be the coolest (literally) way to dissolve freckles — but it’s also not the most popular or effective.

It involves using extremely cold liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy pesky lil frecks. Though this treatment is more popular on nevi — aka moles — it technically can be used on freckles.

The freezing temps cause the area to essentially form a blister, which will then ideally heal up freckle-free. Side effects include discoloration and bleeding — but with proper aftercare, it shouldn’t leave a scar behind (though it *is* possible to have some scarring).  

Natural remedies

“I slathered yogurt on my face, and my freckles disappeared overnight!” — said no one ever. Still, there are lots of natural remedies that the internet says might at least soften them up a little.

We’re NGL — we have no proof that these work whatsoever. But hey, they prob won’t cause any serious harm:

  • Lemon juice. Anyone who turned their hair orange in 7th grade knows that lemon juice can def lighten hair —but can it diminish freckles, too? At the very least, it’s thought to lighten skin, but keep in mind that it also might burn or irritate it.
  • Honey. Some people swear by combining honey with sugar to make an exfoliating scrub. While you’ll have more luck with a heavier-duty exfoliant, it might just work a tiny bit of magic.
  • Buttermilk or yogurt. Buttermilk and yogurt contain lactic acid, which has known lightening properties. Supposedly, putting it directly on your face and leaving for about 10 mins can have a lightening effect. But you might be better off just buying a product with lactic acid.

What causes freckles and dark spots? 

According to current science, a combo of genes + sun exposure causes freckles.

Basically, your skin has cells that produce melanin, which is a friendly pigment that helps protect your skin from UV rays. When your skin’s exposed to the sun, its cells produce more melanin in an effort to protect you.

So, freckles are essentially a buildup of melanin on the skin’s surface and seem to crop up thanks to your genes. But TBH, the pros don’t know *exactly* what triggers them in some people and not others.

Freckles tend to be more common in those with light skin and light eyes, though.

Even though dark spots — aka age/liver spots — are also caused by the sun + melanin, they’re not the same as freckles. According to researchers, these spots pop up primarily due to sun damage and don’t seem to be as strongly heritable.  

Preventing new freckles from forming 

Sun protection is the number one way to prevent new frecks from forming. So break out your sunscreen and oversized hat like you’re freaking Samantha Jones, ‘cause if you truly want to break up with your freckles, you’re gonna need them.

For optimal SPF protection, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends:

  • using SPF of 30+
  • applying sunscreen at least 15 mins before heading outside (even in cloudy weather!)
  • reapplying every 2 hours

When to see a doctor

Even though freckles are noncancerous, they’re associated with a higher risk of skin cancer. That’s because if you have light skin + freckles, you’re more vulnerable to melanoma.

Freckles aren’t usually a reason for concern, though. But if you notice any new moles or changes in the size, color, or shape of a “freckle,” head to a medical professional, JIC. They’ll be able to assess the spot and let you know what’s up.

Frequently asked questions

Can you actually get rid of freckles? 

Yep! Research shows that Q-switched laser treatments are especially effective. Other treatments that work include:

  • intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy
  • chemical peels
  • topical fading creams and retinoids

But since freckles emerge in response to sun exposure, there’s no guarantee they won’t return.  

How do I permanently get rid of freckles?

To permanently banish freckles, you’ll likely need to undergo an intensive treatment to remove them. Then you’ll need to seriously commit to SPF use to keep them from coming back.

Laser therapy (particularly with Q-switched lasers) is thought to be the best way to banish them right now. Afterward, you’ll want to avoid excess sun exposure to prevent them from returning. But of course, there’s no guarantee.

Can freckles be removed naturally? 

There’s no known way to remove freckles naturally ATM. Even a “natural” remedy like lemon juice contains citric acid, which is essentially just a low-strength, no-frills chemical exfoliant.

How long do freckles take to go away? 

That depends! If you undergo laser therapy or a chemical peel, you’ll notice immediate results. That being said, your skin will take a while to heal from invasive treatments like these.

It also might take several sessions depending on how pigmented your freckles are and how your skin responds to treatment.

Retinoids and fading creams can take more sustained effort to see results — think weeks to months. And even then, they still might not fade completely.

Can freckles go away on their own?

Some freckles diminish or disappear altogether during the winter months, then pop back up again when the sun comes out. Some hereditary freckles can also fade as you get older.

By wearing SPF and staying out of the sun, you can help keep them at bay.

The bottom line

Even though freckles aren’t harmful and are pretty dang cute if you ask us, it’s totally fine to want to get rid of them. Invasive treatments like laser treatment, intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, and chemical peels are known to be pretty effective ways to remove or fade them.

Keep in mind that these therapies take a while to heal from, can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, and can cause serious side effects like burning and irritation.

If you still want to say bye to your frecks, talk with your derm to figure out the best removal method for you.

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